Two Lawrence County boys basketball teams remain alive as the PIAA playoffs open Friday night.

Those surviving squads come from different backgrounds, though.

New Castle High is appearing in the state playoffs for an 11th straight season. All of which coming under the direction of coach Ralph Blundo, who is in his 11th season at the helm.

The Red Hurricane won its seventh WPIAL championship under Blundo with a 61-45 decision over Chartiers Valley in Class 5A action.

Ellwood City Lincoln, though, is a newcomer to the statewide stage. The Wolverines defeated South Allegheny in the WPIAL Class 3A title tilt, 53-50. It was the first district crown for Ellwood City. The Wolverines are making their first trip to the state playoffs since 1998.


The ‘Canes will welcome the Ramblers to the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

The Ramblers (16-7) reached the PIAA Class 5A playoffs with a 52-36 decision over Meadville. Erie Cathedral Prep then took care of DuBois, 47-34, to set up its meeting against the ‘Canes.

Khali Horton scored a game-high 18 points for Erie Cathedral Prep in that game and Liam Galla was next with 11.

“Horton and Galla are key players,” Blundo said. “Galla is the glue to that team.

“Their guards are quick and athletic. They can get to the rim. They’re Cathedral Prep. They are what you expect from a Cathedral Prep team. They’ll pick you up full court. They’ll run when they have opportunities. They can play a variety of ways.

New Castle (21-2) will play its 66th game in the state playoffs, with a 43-22 record in the PIAA playoffs. The teams are no strangers to meeting in the PIAA playoffs. This will be the fifth meeting between the schools in the state playoffs and the series is tied at two wins apiece.

New Castle won the last meeting, 67-63, in the PIAA quarterfinals in 2013.

The ‘Canes are nearly a week removed from their last game, a win over Chartiers Valley in the WPIAL Class 5A championship game.

“I think it’s been really good,” Blundo said of the team’s focus. “If there was any kind of hangover, I haven’t seen it.

“We’ve had some really good days of practices. The kids understand the opportunity they have. They’re focused on Erie Cathedral Prep. They’re focused on those four quarters right there.”

New Castle had the luxury of playing three home games in the WPIAL playoffs, through the semifinals. That trend continues, at least in the state quarterfinals Friday night.

“I’d rather play here than anywhere in the world,” Blundo said. “We’re comfortable here. This year, we’ve played (16) home games. If you have to pick a place to play, we’d pick right here.”

The ‘Canes are 15-1 at home this season.

New Castle will start Michael Wells (6-foot-3, Jr., guard/forward), Michael Graham (5-11, Jr., guard), Sheldon Cox (6-3, Sr., guard), Isaiah Boice (5-11, So., guard) and Donny Cade (6-1, Sr., forward/center).


Ellwood City will play the quarterfinal game against Brookville at home Saturday at 1 p.m. The Wolverines played one home game in the WPIAL playoffs, followed by three consecutive road games before playing the WPIAL title tilt on a neutral floor.

“We’re obviously comfortable playing at home,” Ellwood City coach Steve Antuono said. “Having a state playoff game at home is almost unheard of.

“We talked about it as a team and then it was time to refocus. The guys, it’s amazing. They don’t want it to end. Even the weather being nice lately and everything that goes with it. They want to be in the gym, working hard and trying to get to the state title game.” 

The Raiders won the District 9 Class 3A championship with a 69-46 victory over Kane to qualify for the state playoffs.

Brookville moved on to the state quarterfinals with a 68-58 win over Chestnut Ridge in District 5/District 9 sub-regional playoff.

“Once we see their personnel more and get a look a them, we can’t reinvent who we are,” Antuono said. “We have to figure what we need to do to slow them down.”

Jace Miner scored 22 points for the Raiders in the win over Kane and 27 more in the sub-regional decision over Chestnut Ridge.

Ellwood City will start Steve Antuono (6-0, Jr., guard), Joseph Roth (6-4, Fr., forward/center), Alexander Roth (6-2, Jr., guard/forward), Milo Sesti (5-9, Jr., guard) and Ryan Gibbons (6-1, Sr., F).

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Sports Editor

Ron Poniewasz Jr. is the sports editor at the New Castle News. Email him at

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